U.S. seizes Singapore-owned oil tanker in violation of N. Korea sanctions regimes

WASHINGTON, July 30 (Yonhap) — A U.S. federal court on Friday decided to seize an oil tanker owned by a Singaporean national for violating U.S. and U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea that prohibit illicit deliveries of petroleum products to the North, the U.S. Justice Department said.

Citing court documents, the Justice Department said the tanker, M/T Courageous, had illicitly stopped transmitting information regarding its location between August and December 2019, during which satellite imagery showed it engaged in a ship-to-ship transfer of more than “US$1.5 million worth of oil” to a North Korean ship before traveling to the North Korean port of Nampo.

“Pursuant to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act and the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act of 2016, the DPRK and individuals or entities that the Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control, has determined are involved in the facilitation of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are prohibited from engaging in transactions with U.S. persons or using the U.S. financial system,” the department said in a press release.

DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

The department said the Singaporean owner of the seized tanker, identified as Kwek Kee Seng, had used “unwitting U.S. banks” to purchase the Courageous and oil for supplying North Korea.

“Criminal charges of conspiracy to evade economic sanctions on the DPRK and money laundering conspiracy are pending against the alleged owner and operator of the Courageous, Kwek Kee Seng, a Singaporean national who remains at large,” it said.

The Justice Department said Kwek is also suspected of having purchased the Courageous, formerly known as the Sea Prima, to “further the scheme to evade sanctions and launder money.”

The tanker was seized in March 2020 in Cambodia, where it has been held under a U.S. seizure warrant, issued on April 2, 2020.